The Money Files

A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts.

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Recent Posts

How to handle out of hours work

How to read a bridge (and use one on your project)

What recruiters want from project managers (and what the project management industry thinks they want)

How much do you cost your project?

Easy illustrations for your project meetings

How to handle out of hours work

Categories: team

Projects often require out of hours work. That means someone staying late or working over the weekend (or in other non-normal working time) to complete project tasks. It happens in many industries: in IT for example you can’t always make changes to systems during working hours as it stops the production system, so someone has to make those changes at night when the office is closed – and if they can’t be automated then it really does mean someone staying up to press a button.

I haven’t come across many project team members who are willing to work unsociable hours, unless they are getting paid a lot to do so. Therefore you have to handle the requirement for out of hours work sensitively as it does normally mean someone giving up their social and family time to do project work. Here are some guidelines for managing project tasks that have to happen out of hours.

Is it planned?

First, consider if the project task is planned. That could include:

  • Software installations or upgrades
  • Building work
  • Hardware upgrades like PC replacements or other kit
  • Networking and telephony project work

I’m sure you can think of other things relevant to your industries and projects that involve out of hours tasks.

If out of hours work can be planned, then it can be managed.

Provide lots of notice. The more notice people have, the easier it is for them to rearrange their other activities and tasks around this. No one likes to be told that they have to work out of hours at short notice (more on this later). Keep reminding them that the out of hours work is coming up and checking that it is still on their radar.

Arrange who is required. When work is out of hours it can be hard to call in a colleague if you have forgotten something. You can’t just dial up your mate at 3am and ask them to do something. So make sure you have lined up the right resources from the outset. This could involve you or a project team leader, the resource in question, technical or IT staff and someone from the vendor.

Check access. If you are going to site, make sure they remember you are coming and haven’t locked up. If you need access to a secure area, check that someone is available to let you in.

Check the facilities. Do they need to take their own food with them? The canteen on site closing at six isn’t going to be a problem for the normal staff, but if your project team goes on shift then and is planning to work through the night, make sure they’ve got the facilities to at least make themselves a cup of tea. If necessary, turn up yourself with cake – I have done this and it was really appreciated, even though I contributed very little to the actual project tasks in hand.

Arrange overtime payments. Let the individuals know how they will be compensated for working out of hours so there are no surprises. This could be overtime at time and a half or double time, or time off in lieu.

Is it an emergency?

Sometimes project work has to happen as a matter of urgency. Sometimes stuff happens that creates problems that have to be fixed immediately (like a technical failure in the middle of a training course) and that might mean calling someone in when they are supposed to be on leave or asking someone on a Friday afternoon to stay late and work all weekend. Because most project disasters happen on a Friday at 4pm, don’t they?

This type of out of hours work should be managed through your project issue management process.

Organise channels of communication. Make sure that the individuals know who to talk to and who they need to report to when the problem is fixed.

Appoint an issue owner. If you aren’t going to be managing this issue through to resolution, make sure you appoint someone else. Let everyone know who is the main point of contact for decisions, whether that is you or a colleague.

Deal with the problem. Do the work. Get the project back on track. Then fill in the issue log with the resolution and do any other project reporting that you have to and update your project plan.

Recognise the effort. Again, if you have had staff work out of hours in order to resolve a problem, look at how this can be rewarded and recognised. If you can, pay overtime for the hours worked. If you can’t, time off in lieu is normally at your discretion. Say thank you – they got you out of a hole.

Out of hours work is part of managing many projects and you can keep your team on side while you ask them to work unsociable hours for practically nothing. Keep cheerful, keep them cheerful and explain the benefits of the project over and over again. And above all, be grateful. Very few people have ‘must work overtime for project manager’ in their contract so recognise their commitment and thank them for their contribution to a successful project.

Posted on: September 23, 2014 11:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

How to read a bridge (and use one on your project)

Categories: methods, reports, tips

A bridge is a way of displaying financial information in visual format. You might also know it is as a waterfall chart, or ‘the one with the flying bricks that looks like something from Mario’. It’s just a way of showing how an initial position has been affected by subsequent changes, so you can see why that would be useful for a company’s financial position. It can show changes that are positive and changes that are negative, and ends up with the new cumulative position as you can see in this diagram.

This picture shows a completely made up scenario, but I think it illustrates a point. In September, the starting position for this department was $75,000. This could represent value, profit or anything else. Then there were some things that changed. These are illustrated by the small floating boxes: the first change that happened was a positive improvement of $16,000. Then there were some other criteria, inputs and changes that also increased the situation positively.

Now we come to the black boxes. These on my chart represent money out, so let’s say this department spent $2,000 on some new software licences and $1,000 on a big party for everyone. This has had an impact on the net position so if my maths is right, the closing position on the graph, the situation in October, is now $100,000.

Great. But how is this relevant to projects?

Typically this type of bridge is used to represent financial information and you have financial information on your project, don’t you? I think it is a great way to present the impact of changes on your project budget to stakeholders. It’s useful because it’s a good visual representation of how you got from there to here and where the money went.

So you could use it to show the financial changes on your project, but there is nothing to stop you using the same layout to display other sorts of changes. Take this version, for example.

This shows you the situation in September in terms of project days. There are 150 days allocated to this project. Then there are a number of changes put forward. The green boxes show what would happen if you add those changes – the number of days spent on the project goes up (it’s not rocket science really). There are also some changes that save you time on the project. Let’s say that the big one, the 20 day time saving, is because the project sponsor has decided that the overseas office isn’t going to be included in this initiative after all, so there is no need to train those team members and you can save a whole lot of time. Another little change knocks 3 days off your project total.

If all these changes are approved, your project will now take 152 days.

When you are looking at individual changes at the change board, some stakeholders might find it hard to keep approving changes that add time. Two changes that add 10 days each? That’s huge. But when they see all the changes on the table that month laid out like this they can see that approving them all only adds 2 days to the project overall. That’s a very different story.

Of course, you might not want all those changes approved – there might be some stupid suggestions in there or functionality that would be better pushed off to a Phase 2. But using this bridge diagram gives you a new way to present the same data to stakeholders and help them decide on the impact overall.

I hope you find it useful!

Posted on: September 16, 2014 05:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

What recruiters want from project managers (and what the project management industry thinks they want)

Categories: recruitment

What do employers want from project managers? If you are in the market for a new job, then a study in Project Management Journal* may give you the answer. The researchers looked at over 760 jobs and documented what recruiters were asking for. What came out on top might surprise you.

The top 5 skills requested by recruiters

OK, the first one on the list won’t surprise you at all: employers are looking for project managers with good communication skills. ‘Communication’ covers reporting, presenting and interpersonal skills. The top five skills list looks like this:

  1. Communication (61% of adverts asked for this)
  2. Technical skills (43%)
  3. Stakeholder management (41%)
  4. Cost management (37%)
  5. Time management (32%).

What professional bodies tell us is important

The interesting thing about this study is that the researchers compare what job ads ask for to what the project management professional bodies and literature tell us is important. In other words, they are comparing supply (project managers developing professionally through well-trodden credentials) and demand (what employers actually want).

Leadership, for example, is the thing that is most talked about at the moment in the professional project management world. The researchers say it is the hot topic for professional bodies and in professional development for project managers. But the job adverts say it is only in 8th position when it comes to being a desirable skill for a job candidate. Employers would rather have someone good planning skills (the 7th most requested competency) rather than a leader.

Another interesting fact for readers of this blog is that cost management comes out so highly in the adverts. It doesn’t feature at all in the top ten skills that project management literature tells us is important. We (the collective project management industry) are not supplying project managers with good cost management skills because it is not considered an essential skill. The employers beg to differ and count being able to balance the books as one of the top five. In fact, cost management features as a top five skill across three of the five industries studied: construction, engineering and government all rank cost management as essential. It doesn’t feature in the top five for ICT or healthcare projects (but that isn’t to say it isn’t in the top ten – this data isn’t given).

Time management is the same: the literature doesn’t rate this as a critical skill for project managers, but the research shows that employers value it very highly. Stakeholder management is in the same situation: a top five skill for recruiters but only ranking number 15 on the list of things that the global project management body of knowledge and literature think a project manager should be able to do.

So are professional bodies teaching the wrong things?

Professional bodies and the project management body of literature do not stress an importance on cost management, time management or stakeholder management and they do focus on leadership. This doesn’t align to what employers are asking for, based on this study of job adverts. So, are professional bodies focusing on the wrong things?

I don’t think professional bodies are focusing on the wrong things. I don’t think employers are asking for the wrong things either. The two sets of requirements are very different: a national or international project management association is focused on helping project managers be the very best that they can be based on the received wisdom and years of research into what makes project successful. An employer wants someone who can deliver a project and fit into their team and their existing project culture. Now.

There may also be something else at play: employers want people who can deliver in a very dynamic market place and perhaps the recognised industry standards for project management haven’t yet caught up. We’ve seen the introduction of stakeholder management in the latest PMI standards so there is definitely a shift towards aligning the knowledgebase with the practical skills that project managers need to be successful at work.

If nothing else, this study might explain why you are finding it so difficult to fill project management positions in your business!


* Ahsan, K., Ho, M. Khan, S. ‘Recruiting Project Managers: A Comparative Analysis of Competencies and Recruitment Signals from Job Advertisements’, Project Management Journal, Vol. 44, No. 5, pp36-54

Posted on: September 05, 2014 05:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

How much do you cost your project?

Categories: business case

Have you ever sat in a meeting that has started late and wondered how much money it has cost the company to have all those subject matter experts sitting around doing nothing? If you haven’t, maybe you should. It would certainly encourage you to be more efficient in meetings!

Whether you do timesheets or not, or cross-charge your client or not, your time on a project has a financial cost. Let’s look at what that is made up of.

Direct costs

Recruitment costs related to hiring you in the first place: placing an ad, holding interviews, preparing materials

Direct costs are the tangible ones that related to your pay and benefits. They include:

  • Salary and ‘on’ costs such as national insurance and employers’ taxes
  • Benefits like pension contributions, healthcare, car allowance, childcare schemes, discounted gym memberships and so on
  • Cash benefits like a bonus
  • Your phone bill (assuming the device is funded by your employer and they don’t operate a Bring Your Own Device scheme).

All pretty clear so far.

Indirect costs

These are costs of turning up to work and are incurred by all employees. They are quite hard to work out and you might find some financial whizz in the business has done it but normally you wouldn’t know about these.

  • The cost of heating and lighting your workspace in the office
  • Tea, coffee, sugar, mugs (including breakages), spoons, the dishwasher, washing up liquid etc
  • Stationery like pens, printer paper, staples
  • Software licences for the applications you use
  • Hardware costs for your laptop, phone or tablet including keyboard, mouse, monitor, docking station, laptop bag, headset etc
  • Insurance both for you as an individual for example when you are travelling on company business and also for any expensive kit that you have.

Still with me?

Hidden costs

Then there are other costs that don’t appear on any balance sheet. These are the hidden costs of being an employee.

  • The cost of not being as productive or effective as you could or should (consciously like taking extra long tea breaks unconsciously or through other factors)
  • The cost of not tackling poor performance in your project team, such as failing to deal with conflicts that lead to low morale and lower performance
  • The cost of not being innovative. Who has time to factor in ‘innovation afternoons’ on a project? Lack of innovation (or the time to be innovative) can cost businesses a lot in terms of being first to market with a product or just generally working smarter
  • The cost of bureaucracy. Layers of bureaucracy on your project slow things down or add expensive admin loops.

How do you prove your worth?

OK, we can’t put a financial figure on the total of all of these but you can see that on any given day it could run to a substantial amount. On days where you work really hard and effectively from your home office (and therefore pay for your own heating, lighting and tea) and sort out a lingering personnel problem on the project team you would cost your company less than a day where all your meetings started late so there was a lot of sitting around in the office.

Regardless of the figure – and it really doesn’t matter what it is – the point is that your time on a project is worth something. How do you prove this to your manager?

No one is going to ask you at the end of the year whether you have contributed adequately to cover your ‘worth’. Your employment is not a profit and loss account. But it is a good idea to have some ideas prepared to make it clear to them that you are a valuable employee. That could be anything from taking part in external conferences to raise the company’s profile locally to gaining a credential to increase your confidence to delivering a project that generates millions of dollars of revenue.

I can’t tell you what the answer is but I do know that subconsciously employers do think about these things and do know who is a valuable employee and who is less of an asset to the team. They might not use pure financial terms to quantify your contribution, but they will be aware of what contribution you make and how that compares to others in the department.

Can you justify your contribution if asked?

I’d be interested to hear if you have ever worked out the cost of a slow-to-start meeting or if you have calculated your contribution in financial terms. Why not let us know what happened in the comments?

Posted on: August 26, 2014 11:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Easy illustrations for your project meetings

Categories: team, tips

You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, at this month we are really testing that theory with the features on visual project management. And not wanting to miss out, I thought I would share some drawing tips with you.

Drawing? If you are thinking now that you can’t draw, bear with me. By the end of this article you will be able to, I promise.

First, let’s think about why you should be using illustrations and pictures in your project meetings. It’s easy to come up with lots of reasons:

  • It’s fun
  • Drawings help explain complicated concepts
  • People remember drawings better than lists
  • Drawings help get everyone on the same page (ha ha! You know what I mean)
  • Drawings help remove misunderstandings about processes.

And I’m sure you can think of other reasons.

When can you use illustrations in your project meetings? There are lots of times when it is appropriate, for example:

  • Requirements elicitation workshops
  • Solution design workshops
  • Process workshops
  • Change management meetings
  • Long meetings that need something extra to keep the attendees engaged
  • Any time when you are facilitating a session and taking notes on a flip chart.

OK? Let’s get started.

Drawing people

I hated drawing at school so if I can do this, then anyone can. Think of people as a five-pointed star. Then replace the top point with a head, like in the illustration below. An easy person! You can make it look as if the person is pointing, and put them together around an object to represent breakout sessions or collaborative working.

It doesn’t take much to adapt the star concept to have pointy arms and lots of legs to represent a group. I know this particular group only has 5 legs which isn’t realistic. Six would have been better (although there are 4 heads in the front row so someone is still missing out). But you still know what it relates to, don’t you? You can see that this could represent a client group, a project team, a user community… anything.

Illustrating processes

Process maps are represented in a particular way when you are using Visio or similar to put them together in their final version. But in a workshop, you can have much more flexibility about how you draw out processes on flip charts or illustrate them on slides. And there are likely to be some processes that are discussed in meetings where you don’t want a full-blown detailed process map and a quick illustration to show that there is a process will do just fine.

Arrows are great as shortcut symbols for processes. It’s easy to draw a basic arrow, I’m sure everyone can do that. A few dotted lines and it becomes the most basic process diagram. You can write in the sections if you want to show what happens where (maybe useful for illustrating the project lifecycle in a kick off meeting?). Where your process has several different end points (like accept, reject or hold changes) you can give your arrow multiple-heads, like in the picture below.

One of my favourite types of arrow is the twisty one. It can stand for lots of things but it represents transformation. So something goes in, something happens and an output falls out the other side. It could mean that software code is quality checked, or that ‘the magic happens’ in a black box process that is being provided by a third party. But it is fiendish to draw, at least that’s what I thought.

I learned how to draw the twisty arrow and the other elements at the Oredev IT conference a few years ago, in a session about visual recoding. The speaker broke it down and I have done the same for you in the picture below.

So now you have the tools to illustrate your meetings, why not give it a go?

Posted on: August 23, 2014 05:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

I have made good judgements in the past. I have made good judgements in the future.

- Dan